Even if you have been coping well, the anniversary of a loss can hit you hard.
It can raise a variety of emotions, even ones you’ve already processed.
You may struggle to know what to do or if your experience is “normal.” You may not know what anniversaries “should” look like and how to mark the passing of one year since the loss.
If this sounds familiar, there’s absolutely nothing wrong with you. Figuring out how to commemorate loss anniversaries is part of dealing with loss.
Here are 4 ways to commemorate the anniversary of a loss.
Normalize your Feelings
When you consider how you might feel on the upcoming anniversary, you might be surprised by what comes up for you.
Sometimes people feel that since they’ve “moved on” from the loss, they shouldn’t feel angry, sad, or lonely (to name just a few emotions) anymore.
But even when you’ve processed a loss, the anniversary may still trigger memories, which can lead to the onslaught of emotion. This is completely normal.
As with when you first experienced the loss, a helpful strategy is simply to normalize whatever it is you are feeling. Knowing that you aren’t doing anything wrong by feeling can allow you to lean into your personal experience instead of trying to ignore or numb your emotions.
Determine how you want to spend the day.
Before the anniversary arrives, consider how you want to spend the day.
Do you want to be alone or with others? If it falls on a weekday, do you want to go to work or take the day off?
Again, there’s no right or wrong; it’s a highly individual choice. You know you best, so check in with yourself and consider how you might feel and what your functioning will be that day. If you know you won’t be able to focus, practice self-compassion by taking the day off from work.
Inform loved ones of your plans.
Your family and friends want to support you, but they often don’t know how. Sharing your plans with them, and if you’d like them to be included in your plans, can give them a sense of how to support you.
Even if you’d like to be alone, it can be helpful to tell your loved ones so they can honor your choice in how you’d like to spend the day.
Create a ritual.
Reflect on how you’d like to honor the loss and then create a ritual. Having a go-to way to commemorate the anniversary each year can mitigate some of distress you may feel in years to come.
Maybe you’d like to look through old photos of the person you lost, or maybe you’d like to reflect on the ways you grew through that job you no longer have. You may want to spend the day at your or your loved one’s favorite place, or eat your or their favorite food.
If you’re stuck, consider a ritual that will bring you a measure of peace. No matter what you choose, the day will still be difficult, but having a meaningful ritual can reduce your distress and bring a bit of comfort.
We know that grieving is a process, and how you and your loved one cope during this process will determine how you both evolve through it. Counseling can help you and your loved one navigate this confusing time, develop skills, build resilience, and create meaning.
If you, or someone you know, are grieving a loss and would like professional support, please call (760) 942-8663 x 7. I would love to speak with you and share in this journey of healing with you.
Darcie Czajkowkski, MA, AMFT